Stella Grundy’s one-woman show The Rise & Fall of a Northern Star depicts the meteoric rise to stardom (at least in her own head) of Madchester lassie Tracey Star and her sad and sordid fall.
Stella approaches the role like the seasoned pro that she is, fluctuating seamlessly from Tracey’s drug-fuelled nervously enthusiastic but deliberately naff acoustic performances to accomplished ultra-expressive vocals with the microphone.
The scene is set in Tracey’s bedroom which is as messed up as her head at times, strewn with empty bottles and other decadent-lifestyle detritus. On the wall are three of her idols: the chameleon that is David Bowie (here in Ziggy period), the ill-fated Jim Morrison (rock’n’roll animal par excellence) and Andy Warhol’s darlings The Velvet Underground (reminding you of Stella’s previous production based around Nico’s Manchester connections).
So Tracey has an obsessive desire to emulate these icons and her determination knows no bounds, which brings in her Faustian pact with the devil at Jimmy Page’s London music studio, with her soul freely for sale to anyone who can further her ends.
Throughout Stella manages to dominate the stage: this isn’t a demure performance like Alan Bennett’s Talking Heads or even a cheeky one like The Vagina Monologues. In fact, it’s not a monologue at all, with Stella quite effortlessly acting out a multiplicity of roles both on stage and on the original live soundtrack (which is of particular note too).
What’s important is that we do actually feel for Tracey, she is comical and her excitement is infectious but we also may want to parent her or at least ask her to slow down, itinerant child (to paraphrase Ian Dury). And mentioning the latter, yes there are constant references to sex, drugs and rock’n’roll but ironically when Tracey does actually expose herself she pulls her t-shirt over her head to cover her head and the end result is ghoulish and therefore thankfully not at all titillating (she isn’t there for our predilection after all).
Without being preachy there are a lot of lessons to be learnt here, and you don’t have to have had a close escape with the downside of star dust to get the message, or even remember the Hacienda daze. Really it’s an extremely well-written timeless tale that is isn’t afraid to show both the highs and lows of hedonism (there have to be highs or people wouldn’t spend a fortune chasing the dragon, we all know about the lows from the still constant run of tragic breakdowns and even deaths that are then smattered all over the tabloid press.)
The soundtrack and original songs are simply fantastic and to a certain extent sweeten the pill of some of the more difficult and uncomfortable moments. And Stella’s performance is equally superb, dominating the stage with a riveting presence and proving her adeptness both in terms of storytelling and physical theatre as well.
Iain Bloomfield, Theatre in the Mill’s Artistic Director, has championed this play and it is most deserving of his attentions and can now undoubtedly go on to successful runs in studio venues elsewhere. The whole point of a development sharing is to gain feedback and there are a number of niggling little things that need ironing out (for example, with the substance abuse scenes make you’re mind up, is this deliberately theatrical and stylised or naturalistic– the line was still there after the snort).
But for you reading this as a preview, suffice to say this show can run and run, it’s got the legs for it, even if it may leave you flat out after Stella’s full-on dynamic delivery of a story that is part fairy tale, part Faustian tragedy. And you’ll have a bloody good laugh to boot!
As seen at Theatre in the Mill, Bradford, 1 August 2014 in development.
Tours in October: